Sponsored post versus free expression: FTC demands Instagram endorsement explanation form celebrities

amber rose sponsored instagram

The U.S. consumer watchdog Federal Trade Commission, whose purview includes truth in advertising, has sent a warning letter to 21 celebrities including A-listers Sofia Vergara, Naomi Campbell, Lindsay Lohan and Vanessa Hudgens requesting a response regarding recent Instagram posts made by the celebrities, seemingly promoting and endorsing specific products and brands.

Instagram is owned by Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB).

As in the example Instagram post above from Amber Rose, which the FTC itself used as an example, celebrities with large Instagram followings often post about products or brands they use.

Which is fine, unless there’s a paid-for reason you’re endorsing.

The FTC’s truth-in-advertising guidelines require the disclosure of a “material connection” to a product or brand. A “material connection” obviously includes a disclosure if a celebrity is being paid to post about a product, but also includes things such as free gifts received (such as clothes or a free private jet ride), or if the celebrity has a material endorsement deal with a brand. Using hashtags such as #partner or just tagging the sponsor are not considered proper disclosures.

Several months ago, FTC sent educational letters to 43 celebrities as well as to certain brand owners, reminding them of the disclosure rules which would turn an Instagram post into a disclosure-worthy ad.

The letters were apparently sent to the 21 celebrities on September 6, with the FTC requesting official responses by September 30.

For its part, Instagram has tried to make it easier for posters to label posts as paid promotions. The company recently stated that it would begin allowing a “paid partnership with” label that would appear above the picture, if tagged as such by a poster.

According to website Buzzfeed, the 21 celebrities who received the FTC letter are below. The largest Instagram following from the bunch is actress Vanessa Hudgens, with 26.8 million followers.

Farrah Abraham (from Teen Mom)


Amber Rose

Ashley Benson

Naomi Campbell


Scott Disick

Tiona Fernan (an Instagram model)

Lilly Ghalichi (Shahs of Sunset star and makeup artist)

Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars)

Chelsea Houska (Teen Mom 2 star)

Vanessa Hudgens

Jenni “JWoww” Farley

Vanessa Lachey

Lindsay Lohan

Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little Liars)

Rach Parcell (fashion blogger)

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi

Lisa Rinna

Sofia Vergara

Dorothy Wang (from Rich Kids of Instagram)

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